Go to the bottom of the Show Notes for cavnessHR affiliates and resources.
The cavnessHR Podcast can be found at the following places or you can just type in cavnessHR on the respective app.
YouTube Pippa: https://cavnesshr.co/youtu184ba
Google Play: https://cavnesshr.co/9faa7
Pocket Casts: https://pca.st/vFtP
Social Media links for Rob Below!!
2018 Guide to Activating Employee Voice https://2018guide.worktango.io/
Below is Rob’s book recommendations:
Good to Great book by James Collins
“Delivering Happiness” Tony Hsieh book from Zappos
Below are the links to purchase the books on Amazon.
Jason: Hello, and welcome to the cavnessHR Podcast. I’m your host. Jason Cavness. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Audible. Get a free audiobook download and a 30-day trial at www.audiotrial.com/cavnessHR. Audible has over 180,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle and MP3 player. Our guest today Rob Catalano. Rob, are you ready to be great today?
Rob: I am.
Jason: Rob is passionate about helping companies succeed by leveraging technology to make employees successful. With his unique experience in HR Technology as a founding employee at Achievers, Rob co-founded WorkTango – a software that helps give employees a voice and companies actionable insight. He has recently been named as a 2018 Top Global Employee Engagement Influencer, has had the privilege of speaking in over 30 cities the past three years, and loves the opportunity to connect with passionate HR leaders across the globe. He is an avid hockey and volleyball player, traveler and, in his own terms, a point-acholic. He likes collecting points for anything and everything. Rob, thank you for being here today. We really appreciate it.
Rob: Thanks for having me, Jason.
Jason: So, Rob, what's keeping you busy today?
Rob: It's been busy just with growing WorkTango in terms of your customers you’re having on board, we’re launching some really great programs. I find most of my time sitting with customers, chatting with them, most days, and today was no different.
Jason: So, Rob, how does WorkTango work for employees and supervisors. What benefits do both groups get out of WorkTango.
Rob: So, basically, what WorkTango is, is the tool that helps give employees a voice – a safe place to provide their feedback. But, more importantly, give leader's actionable insight into their business. So, really, what it does from an employee standpoint is it does allow them to have a voice on a more frequent basis. Companies are moving away from doing annual engagement surveys or getting feedback on a very infrequent basis. So it's giving employees a more frequent way to provide that feedback. And what's interesting is whether you’re an HR leader in the organization. Whether you're an executive or even a leader of a team, we serve that insight to companies in real time. So the ability for leaders to hear the feedback of their employees, immediately, is a lot better than what companies seem to be doing today when they do a large survey. Waits three weeks to get data, HR sits on a for a while, and then gets it to leaders. Getting it in real time allows the leaders to actually be responsive and support the engagement and performance of the teams.
Jason: Rob, has this only been released in your area in Toronto or has it been Canada-wide or North America-wide?
Rob: No. So, today we have employees in over sixty countries that use the platform. I think we’re in about fourteen/fifteen languages at the moment – and we have offices and employees in Denmark, Toronto, London, UK, and even in India as well. So it started in Toronto here today but we do work with global organizations.
Jason: So, with you being in so many countries, a lot of countries have different cultures, how does that play into your platform. How does that work for different countries and different cultures?
Rob: That's a good point. It definitely has to be some sensitivity in terms of what are the questions that you ask and even understanding how people provide feedback. Great example, a lot of companies that will do these types of employee surveys or get feedback. What they'll do is they'll ask people to rate their leader one out of five or something like that, and in some cultures, they just don't rate people. It's just something they would never do to their manager if they were feeling that way. So, sometimes, we do things like use icons – “do you feel sunny,” “do you feel rainy,” or “cloudy,” and even other things. In some cultures, when you have a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, that's offensive in other cultures as well. So it's always just being culturally sensitive and even being localized in terms of the languages you use to make sure whatever you're doing is relevant to that company and wherever their employees sit.
Jason: So, Rob you know there’s a lot of competitors in this space. How would you convince a company to go with your software?
Rob: So, typically, what we hear from our customers, the reason why they love the WorkTango experience and platform is one: quite different is that employees don't need accounts. They don't need to go on their phone. We really remove any barrier from employees providing feedback where they don't have to log into an account because when you do that, that level of anonymity goes away. So people really like the ease of use from an employee standpoint. And also, what they're able to do is they can take all the data and insights and they get and, in real time. They can actually divide and split it up to see in unlimited ways. So if they want to look at information and stack-rank their departments or countries or leaders it can easily start pinpointing with robust data, dashboards and analytics that we have.
Rob: And one thing that really makes us unique is it's not just getting ratings from employees and looking at the quantitative items. We actually use IBM and their Watson Technology, which is Natural Language Processing. It will take thousands of employee comments and, in real time, let people know what were the themes or the sentiment of what employees were feeling. It's quite different than typical employee engagement surveys or other things as well. And the last thing that makes us really different is companies use our platform for whatever purpose they want in an unlimited fashion. So customers don't only use us to do more frequent engagement policies in their organization. They use it to get feedback on change management in the organization, major business transformation, feedback about their leaders. Some use it just immediately if they wanted to get feedback about a major event that happened in the company or after an emergent acquisition. So it's quite unique where you can customize the questions, the categories, the way you see reporting, and people really like that flexibility to be able to use in an unlimited fashion.
Jason: Employees, do they go on there as anonymous or put their names? How does that work?
Rob: So, the beauty is we actually have all the employee data on the backend so we don't have to ask them any questions like what their name is, who their leader is or anything about what department they live in, which is actually a better employee experience in general. It cuts down a lot of the questions – but their feedback is anonymous. So when our customers go into the platform to look at insights and see what the sentiment of the organization is, there is no way to individualize responses – what we call our anonymity threshold. So, for example, maybe a smaller company might have an anonymity threshold of five. As you start filtering down all the data, if there isn't five responses, we don't share that insight. Some companies are seven or ten or twelve, depending on how large they are. But we call it our “employee promise” – it’s something we ensure that all the feedback that the companies are getting are not individualized and anonymous, for sure.
Jason: So, have you had a company come back to you and say, “well, we don't trust this platform because everyone’s anonymous and they’re just saying what they want to?”
Rob: It's kind of a battle of sitting on one side of the fence. Typically, if you send it from an organization, you're not going to get real feedback and most companies actually prefer to get real, honest feedback. Even if it is brutal, and those are the ways that we continually improve, find gaps in our company. So we find that most companies that choose to work with us are actually looking for that. They want that level of anonymity, and sometimes it's not going to be great feedback. But that's how we get better – by identifying what we're not doing well as opposed to always the positive.
Jason: Have you found that a certain industry is using the platform more than another? Maybe tech uses it more, maybe manufacturing is using it more?
Rob: That's a great question. It's so interesting. Not only with the last company in HR technology – and this one was revolving around employee feedback and engagement. We work with so many different industries – retail, financial services, people that aren’t at their computers every day – and what we found is that. What it came down to, not a particular industry, it was companies that actually cared. If the leaders in that organization – HR leader or executives – were interested in this, wanted to drive engagement and wanted to get feedback. It really didn't matter what industry it was. We work with law firms, we work with major consulting firms. If we’re working in all spaces, there isn't one that stands out that, say, we do really well with – one type of industry – and, typically, you would think it's companies that are always in front of computers or online. We work with companies that have people in the field all the time, providing feedback on their mobile device. So I always like to say if companies really care about hearing the voice of their employees and improving engagement in their company. It typically doesn't matter the size or the industry.
Jason: Rob, can you tell us your definition of employee engagement?
Rob: That’s a good question. So the way I'd answer that is what I call working with purpose. So when I say working with purpose, if you're finding purpose in your job – whether that's learning, whether it's driving the purpose or the mission of the organization. I think that's what real engagement is, that's when you have employees that are involved, they're invested, and they’re going to do the things for the betterment of the organization and, ideally, for themselves as well. So, interesting enough, I believe that so much that when we created WorkTango. We actually didn't create a mission because we believe missions end and everyone has a mission. But instead, we created our passion – that was to improve lives at work. So when we're hiring people at WorkTango. We're looking for people that are focused on that passion. They're part of that purpose of growing the organization and improving lives at work. I find when people have that frame of mind, that’s employee engagement for me, hands down.
Jason: Rob, how do you market WorkTango? Is it word-of-mouth, do you have an ad campaign somewhere, or how do you go about marketing it? You’re having some fantastic growth.
Rob: So, we've been very lucky to not invest a lot in terms of sales and marketing. We have happy customers that do a lot of referrals and we've been in the HR technology and HR consulting space for, collectively, with my co-founder and I, over 22 years. So, we had a kind of really good network that we lean on. As we grow, we know we're going to do more of that. But we've been very lucky with having a lot of inbound companies come to us that have either worked with us in the past, connections we have, or referrals from our current customers. So you'll probably see more of WorkTango in the next little while as we get larger and grow. Today it's been “knock-on-wood,” very positive terms of people coming to us.
Jason: Rob, talk some more about the 2018 Top Global Employee Engagement Influencer award you received.
Rob: Yeah. So, it was shocking to me as well. [It was] a nice honor. There's an organization out in the UK that puts a lot around the employee engagement space and they did the employee engagement award. And part of that process is they put out that list last year and I was on the list last year and this year and it's nice to get recognized for. It's also cool to see other people that are waving the same flag right. We all believe in it, we're all trying to help companies do that, whether it's using technology or other process and it's a great way to highlight what great organizations or people are doing. I met so many great connections through it and I’m just pleased to be on that list.
Jason: Yes, that’s great, Rob. Rob, can you tell us about a time you were successful in the past, what you learned from this and what our listeners can learn from this success of yours in the past?
Rob: So, I've been pretty (I don't know if you want to call it lucky), but I’ve been part of three high growth companies and one of the things that I’ve learned. Whether it's running that organizationally, like WorkTango, or being a leader of a team or department – is that what made it successful was surrounding ourselves with good people. It's hard if you have to move people around. But if you don't have the great people with you to be successful. I think that's where you're going to fail and that's where I think we found success – is finding fantastic people. They were passionate and engaged to our earlier conversation. One concept that I've always used from a book out there – it's Good to Great, James Collins – we’ll start with who then what. That was a concept that he discussed and talked about that and any time we're building a team, a company, a project. Let's find the people that are passionate, and we can teach them skills, but that's what success was – surrounding yourselves with fantastic individuals.
Jason: It’s amazing that even today some people don't realize how important having great people around you is. I never understood that.
Rob: Yeah. And we used to have some concepts in the companies we've had in the past where hire slow and fire fast, and it's not meant to be brutal or rude. But it only gets harder over time. If you don't have the right person with passion and engagement, again, it's going to just get harder over time. So it's a challenging decision sometimes, but if you don't have those people, it's so hard to succeed.
Jason: Especially if you’re in a startup – it gets even magnified, I think.
Rob: Yeah, think about that – if you're a ten-person company and one person isn’t on board, that's ten percent of your organization that isn't aligned to what you're trying to accomplish. And, actually, that's what's wonderful; we have a lot of large companies that use WorkTango. But even some of the smaller ones, when you start looking at insights by individual leaders and can deal with that issue right away. They're the lifeblood of that company. So it's great to get that insight to your leaders as well.
Jason: So I have another question for you. Has there ever been a time when companies come to you and you say, “you know what, your missions or your culture isn’t really aligned with what we want,” and basically you just disqualify that potential customer?
Rob: Yeah. So, in our early days, we were a lot smaller and we had a company – a large organization – that wanted to work with us. They were very bullish on using paper, and that was doing paper surveys, getting those things faxed or mailed over in some fashion. And just our philosophy around speed of getting feedback in real time to make sure it's really anonymous through a platform was something we weren't aligned with and chose not to do. And, again, when you're starting up, and there's a large organization that's pushing you there. It's easy to falter on your morals and change your approach. But we stood tall, we said we weren't going to do it and we basically turned them away.
Jason: Yeah, I had a couple companies like that, too – companies that wanted everything for HR to be in hardcopy, like, hardcopy of the employee handbook, hardcopy everything – and I had to turn them away, this is not what we’re doing. We’re trying to be digital, we’re trying to be paperless, and they weren’t on board. But it’s tough when you really have no customers. You’re brand new, and you’re just thinking about all that money that they would bring in or help you grow the company but you’ve got to say, “no.”
Rob: I find it's okay to challenge companies, too. Like just the fact that you've been doing it all the time doesn't mean it's still the right thing to do. But also, our world’s changing around us – you can barely go to the bank and talk to a human being anymore. The way we're working as consumers is changing as well and companies need to start making that move. So it was hard to turn it away, especially at that time, super early stage a couple years back. But it was the right thing to do.
Jason: Definitely. Rob, next, talk about a time you failed in the past, what you learned from this failure, and what we can learn from this failure you had.
Rob: In no way I'm trying to tie it to the last question, but I failed in hiring. I’ve brought on the wrong people before and, again, I learned you can't teach passion and motivation to people. They have to come with that or they're in an environment where they feel that. So I've learned now that, again, very diligent in hiring practices, making sure we hire the right people. If we don't, then let's fix that right away. But I made that mistake a lot early in my career – not bringing on the right individuals or bringing on someone because we needed someone. And the one rule use is just never waver. If this isn't the right person we're so confident is number one, then don't make the hire. So it's similar to what I’ve succeeded in the past. I've succeeded because I learned from these failures many times early in my career.
Jason: Yes, I think a lot of people think they're a hiring expert and they’re really not; I don’t think I know one hiring expert. It’s a hit and miss, sometimes. Some might have a great interview but then they’re not really a fit. You’ve just got to do the best you can, I think. Rob, can you talk about someone who's helped you in the past and how they helped you?
Rob: Yeah. So early stage of WorkTango, I was actually for moving from Achievers to WorkTango. I was living in the UK, I was playing hockey out there like Canadian people do and met someone there who was just a friend who was from Toronto as well. Playing hockey, and when I chose to move back to Toronto, to start up the organization, my friend Samir who I played hockey with there was a developer. He was very interested in what we were doing and he was willing to build the first versions of the platform, basically, for free. He was passionate about what we're doing, wanted to help. As a startup, we weren't funded – we bootstrapped this organization. So it was really helpful to start seeing a product being able to beta it with people that we didn't have to really invest a lot of dollars into and I don’t know if we could have done it without him. And what's fantastic about the story is, over the last couple of years, he's still been around and he's finally a full-time employee at WorkTango. So it's just a great story about someone willing to help out, just so valuable to us, and we can’t say thanks enough.
Jason: That was a great story, Rob. Rob, tell us something about yourself that most people don't know. Of course, your family, close friends, know this, but most people that see you day to day don't know this about you.
Rob: I used to play guitar in a metal band. So that's something a lot of people don’t know. I used to have a beard like you and I’d do a lot of stuff back in high school and university – still listen to that stuff. But most people don't typically know that about me. And then, I think, more specific to the world of work – I'm actually a marketer by trade. So I went to school for business, marketing, worked in marketing agencies. And what’s interesting is that when I sat in large organizations I was working with as a marketer. It was nice to see large companies. But they were moving a little too slow, it was something that I didn’t want for and that’s why I worked with high-growth, small organizations for most of my career.
Rob: What happened was, when I started working in the HR space, all the concepts and principles around marketing, which is understanding consumer behaviors. Why they make decisions, how do you motivate them, etc.. It was just a change in mindset about we should be doing this for employees. So all the theories of human motivation and why they do things, the passion just took over when it came to the workplace and how do we make the workplace better. And that's why, for the last sixteen years now, I've been on the HR technology, HR consulting side of things, but it all came from what I studied which was marketing back in school.
Jason: Yes. Rob, I understand you have a couple books to recommend for listeners.
Rob: Yeah. So I kind of gave it away earlier, but the Good to Great book by James Collins. Just great advice for growing companies, whether it's your company or your teams. We used to give that to every single employee at our last organization to rally people around understanding some of the concepts, why we're doing things, why we need to move fast, etc. I think that’s a great book. The other one I want to recommend is: Delivering Happiness – it's the Tony Hsieh book from Zappos. I love it because it's about how they delivered happiness as originally a company selling shoes that eventually got bought by Amazon for a billion dollars, But their whole focus was delivering happiness to customers, and I think that there’s concepts that, if we take that exact same concept of how we treat our employees. I think companies need to start building ideals around that and culture around those type of things. So those are my two recommendations that, I guess, every couple of years, I just read so I don't forget.
Jason: A lot of companies will say, “take care of the customer,” but I'm a big believer in “take care of the employees and the employees will take care of the customers even better.”
Rob: Exactly, right.
Jason: Rob, I understand you have something for our listeners.
Rob: Yes, two things. One thing is we do offer our customers or any new customer one-month free trial of the platform. That’s if they want to get on, start getting insights, see the value in it and not have to pay in that month. We want to offer to people in your community, and just appreciate being a part of it – and maybe what I actually will sell is that I just spent the last six months writing what I call The Guide to Activating Employee Voice. A lot of the time, research insight conversations with organizations and put together this. (it's quite lengthy, it's about a thirty-six-page guide), But it's really building the concepts and ideas on how do we move away from what companies typically do, annually, like engagement surveys and recognition and performance management and thinking about how to reactivate voice more frequently in companies. So maybe I could send you a link to that and you could share it with everyone.
Jason: Yes, that’d be great. Rob, can you share your social media links, either for yourself and your company, so people can reach out to you?
Rob: Sure. So, personally, @RobCatalano; If you want to email me – firstname.lastname@example.org, and then, for the organization, worktango.com is our website and Work_Tango is our Twitter handle.
Jason: And for our listeners, the links to everything that Rob has talked about will be in our show notes. Rob, we’ve come to the end of our talk, can you provide any last-minute advice and wisdom on any subject you’d like to cover with our listeners?
Rob: Yes. I think a lot of your listeners, obviously being in the HR space, some of the advice and some of the things I'm really focusing on right now is just three major points that I walk a lot of our companies through. One is; view the world with a consumer lens. We have to look at them as consumers – the experiences they have, the technology they use – and our workplace can’t be something that's falling behind. So I think one is, let's look at the world as employees as consumers and we'll treat them a lot differently. Second is being more agile in our approach. Again, the annual surveys, the annual performance management reviews. It's not as frequent as our employees work and how fast our organizations are going. So definitely get more agile. I think the last one – and this is what I've seen, especially, building WorkTango – is you have to leverage your managers. If you want a lot of the stuff to work in terms of getting more agile, building that consumer mindset, your managers are the bridge between what your company’s trying to accomplish and your employee behaviors every day. So whatever you can do to include your leaders, provide them insights, get them (what we do) employee voice in real time, make them part of goal-setting in organizations. They're so important to making sure that your employees are engaged and performing. And most people, again, leave leaders, not the organization. So those are the three things I'm really bullish on in terms of the HR space today.
Jason: You bring up a great point – a lot of people talk about engaging and empowering the employees while, I think, oftentimes, managers are getting to left out of it. A lot of the time I think people forget about empowering their managers also.
Rob: Yeah, and we forget that managers are employees, too; they’re employees as well. They’re not any magic beast; in fact, they have it more challenging sometimes because they're doing two roles, usually.
Jason: Yes. Rob, thank you for your time today, we really appreciate it. I know you have a busy schedule and I appreciate your time today.
Rob: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it. Have a great rest of the day.
Jason: Yes. To our listeners, thank you for your time as well, and remember to be great every day.
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